Tuesday, November 30, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Light

An Inkling
What if people knew what you really thought?  What if WikiLeaks got hold of all the “cables” that flit through the channels of your mind and published them on the internet?  What if they posted what you really believe about God, your spouse, your in-laws, your boss, your neighbors, and the folks at church?  What would happen?
I guess we’d have a smaller version of what we’re seeing play out internationally with the WikiLeaks of U.S. diplomatic cables.  Actually, when you stop to think about it, there are no huge surprises.  We’ve long since known that we were suspicious of them, and they were suspicious of us.  We already knew that we see them as unpredictable goofballs, and that our making nice with them was a calculated means of making order in a chaotic world.  What’s surprising?  Only that we’ve been shown as unpredictable goofballs too.  And honestly that’s no surprise either.
T.M.I. (too much information) applies not only to bodily functions, but also to relationships.  Otherwise chaos mounts ever higher.
The only way full disclosure can finally bring good is when it happens in the company of the One who has no darkness within.  So he is described in 1 John.  As the WikiLeaks story has unfolded, I’ve been pondering on 1 John 1:5-10.  I commend it to your own reflection.
The One who is light welcomes us into the light ourselves.  That would be terrifying, except for this assurance:  if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (v. 7).  So rather than him withdrawing in horror at the exposure of what we’re really like, he takes all of our unseemliness upon himself, and takes it to the cross.  Wow!  Thus we really can live in the light with each other.  How’s that for good news?
Pray for Mr. WikiLeaks.  He thinks exposure is the same thing as living in the light.  Not so.  In hell everything is exposed, and yet there is still no light.  That takes the love of the One who cleanses us from the darkness within.
Living in his light,

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Next Steps in an Acquired Skill

An Inkling
Have you ever seen a child who is naturally grateful?  I haven’t.  Gratitude is something we learn – and not just once. 
Mom says to Junior, “What do you tell Daddy for this new ball?”  And Junior stares blankly.  “Say, ‘Thank you, Daddy.’”  So he echoes, “Thank you, Daddy.”  It takes a while, but usually it becomes more than parroting.  Most of us have acquired the happy habit of saying “Thank you” when someone does something nice, and usually we mean it.
But I’m not sure we go much further.  Ask a child what she’s grateful for, and she’ll typically answer, “Mommy, Daddy, Max (the dog), and my new dolly.”  A child’s emerging gratitude is focused on special people, critters, and toys.  Ask an adult what she’s grateful for, and she’ll probably include more relationships and fewer “toys.”  That’s a good step, but there’s more.
The more comes as we bring the whole of life, including the hard parts, into view as the starting place for gratitude.  The One to whom we direct our thanks truly is more than a celestial Santa Claus, lavishing us with gifts.  We know that.  And yet stunted gratitude reveals a heart that is not much beyond that vision of God.
If the One we thank is indeed guiding the whole of our lives, directing a story line that is joyful beyond our imagining, unfolding the full import of our salvation in Jesus, and turning even the lousy parts of our stories toward blessing, then our gratitude needs to move beyond a bullet point list of obvious gifts. 
It was that broader, deeper gratitude in the Pilgrims’ hearts that launched our Thanksgiving tradition.  They didn’t have much in the way of tangible gifts, especially compared to us.  But they had an eye for the Lord at work in the whole of their lives, and thus their gratitude grew.
May the Giver of all good things also give us eyes to see his hand at work in all things.  Growth in gratitude follows.  And this week is a great time to give that growing gratitude new voice.
With gratitude for you,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Non-Random Acts of Kindness

An Inkling
“Uh oh.”  That’s the first thought that comes to mind when I arrive at my office in the morning and find the red message light blinking on my phone.  A need of sufficient urgency prompted an overnight call – is someone in the hospital?  Does someone have a family emergency?  Or is this a message about some fault in the church program or schedule or pastor (pick one or more!)?  Such are my “Uh oh” thoughts as I punch the message button and listen.
But this morning the message was from a friend with a passion for encouragement.  He has found a creative way to encourage by calling long before anyone is in the office, and leaving a message with a kind word, a scripture, and an assurance of prayer support.  Such a simple thing, but what a big lift!
My friend has a special zeal for encouraging pastors, and I’m just one of several that he blesses with these out of the blue encouragements.  But obviously it need not just be pastors.  Everyone benefits from a kind word.
Who might benefit from a word of encouragement from you?  And how can you engage your creativity to make it a happy surprise?  The surprise multiplies the effect – kind of like giving flowers on a random day.  In contrast to the “Practice Acts of Random Kindness” bumper stickers, for those of us who serve Jesus, it’s anything but random.  It’s who we are in him. 
You’ve got a message…

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

With an Eye for Blazes

An Inkling
Every two or three months I take an afternoon apart for what I call a “silent retreat.”  I go somewhere quiet, usually an isolated section of a park, and hang out with the Lord for an afternoon.  I’ve discovered that some kinds of interactions can happen with the Lord in a morning prayer time, but other kinds need more time.  Thus the silent retreat.
Typically I take my journal, a Bible, and some water.  I hike, sit and ponder, and take time to notice what’s around me.  After about an hour the busyness in my head slows, and I can focus and listen better.  That’s one big advantage over my morning prayer time.  And the Lord always has some means of speaking to me, making use of whatever scenes I’ve encountered.  Sometimes he tells me a lot, and sometimes just a little.  And I almost always have a lot to tell him – if not in substance, at least in length, for my journal grows by a couple of pages or more. 
I have discovered two consistent realities about these times.  First it’s always hard to find the time.  Something has to be sacrificed in order to get apart with the Lord.  (Actually, I think he has some intention in this.)  And secondly, I am always grateful when I’ve made the time.  He always has some surprising treasure in store.
Usually it’s not earth shaking, just edifying, and timely.  For example, two weeks ago I was at Montreat for several days of study leave.  I decided to use one of the afternoons for a silent retreat.  I hiked the Rainbow Trail, up to Lookout Point, and back down.  The leaves were at their peak, so it was a visual feast – blazing reds, oranges, and yellows.
I had not taken this trail before, but had a general idea of where it led.  A number of other trails intersected it, so I had to make a lot of “fork in the road” decisions.  The trail narrowed at points, but was always visible if I paid attention.  Even so, I was grateful for the trail blazes that marked the way every quarter mile or so.  Even though I could see the trail, I found the blazes reassuring.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the dots between that hike and the walk of faith – the attentiveness needed to stay on the path, forks that force decisions, and the gift of timely trail blazes.  I wrote a good bit in reflection on both what I was seeing and what God was showing me.
How do you get apart to be with the Lord?  There are lots of ways to do it, and it’s more than worth the effort.  And whether you’re taking your retreat via hiking or not, there will be blazes.  The Trail Master assures it.
Happy Trails!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Until We Meet Again...

An Inkling
Life’s course forces us at points to part from those dear to us, which means it’s well to learn to hold lightly the people we love.  Often this is the pattern:
§       The challenge comes simply at first, as we send our little ones off to school for the first time. 
§       Then we discover that our busy teens actually prefer other company to their parents! 
§       Soon enough we’re sending our almost adult children off to the military or to college. 
§       Then we become extended family to our “child,” who now has an immediate family of his or her own. 
§       That often comes with a move across the country or even across the globe. 
§       This series of partings continues until, at the other end of life, we let go of everyone at once as the Lord welcomes us to himself.
I say we’re “forced” into such partings.  We often try to thwart them, but that never seems to work out very well.
I was reminded of this last week when Sarah and I returned to First Presbyterian Church in Douglasville, Georgia, for their 50th Anniversary celebration.  It was fun to see the people with whom our hearts had been closely knit for ten years.  When the Lord directed us to St. Giles in 2007, that of necessity meant letting go of the particular ways we had held those good folks through our time there.
It was a joy to see that the ones I had let go of were still being held in the hand of the One who has the capacity to hold us securely through the whole course of life.  So Jesus promised:  My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me… No one will snatch them out of my hand.  (John 10:27-28)  And he can bring it off!  No turn in our lives can thwart him in holding us securely through the whole course of life.
As much as I love the Douglasville saints, I don’t have what it takes to hold them finally.  And though it is harder to acknowledge, the same is true of those knit most deeply into my heart – my own wife and daughters.  Even with them I must hold loosely, which is more do-able knowing that the same One who holds me securely holds them.
Reunions give us a taste of the time to come, when being in the Lord’s grip will mean that we’re together in that grip, never again to part.  We’ll anticipate that grand reunion this coming Sunday as we celebrate All Saints Sunday.